December 13, 2006
Effective efforts to solve poverty
This show features not one, but two interviews with people who are having a profound effect on solving the problems of poverty. Muhammad Yunus has provided the world with a working and effective method of providing opportunity for the poor, and Vandana Shiva gives alternatives to the unsuccessful policies currently being practiced by corporations and governments.
Muhammad Yunus has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his revolutionary work in microcredit, which is becoming a world-wide movement as his incredible success is being recognized. Two extended clips of his inspiring Nobel Prize acceptance speech are featured, and the discussion highlights that his efforts are not simply to provide the tiny amounts of capital that poor people need to begin raising themselves out of poverty, but that his efforts include the equally important goals of empowering the poor through ownership of their own land and homes, and control of their own organizations. This was demonstrated by the examples of requiring the one receiving a housing loan, usually a woman, to have ownership of the property being improved, and by the description of groups of women who run the loan organizations on behalf of their own villages, and do all business in full public view. Certainly the issues of ownership and completely open business dealings are fundamental ingredients to the success of this movement.
Equally inspiring was Vandana Shiva's efforts to publicize the devastating effects on Indian farmers of over-controlling monopolistic enterprises in cooperation with oppressive governmental regimes. Her interview centers on the plight of farmers who buy genetically-modified seeds because of advertised greater yields, and then are trapped in a debt cycle as they are obligated to buy more seed and high-priced chemicals every year. The result has been a rate of farmer suicides so high that it is difficult to call labeling it as "genocide" an exaggeration. She points out that a better solution is for the farmers to use their own seeds from their harvests, which are free since they already own them, and to educate the farmers in sustainable organic farming methods to increase productivity. This solution is greatly hindered by hush-hush deals between the government and the mega-corporations providing the genetically modified seeds. In one case, the government's "solution" to the undeniable problem of debt which is causing the suicides was to provide even more subsidies for farmers who destroyed their legacy seeds in order to buy genetically-modified seeds. She also points out that the poverty in India is being further exacerbated by deals to suppress micro-capitalism, such as small farmers selling garden vegetables in small markets, in favor of large corporate retail markets with products provided by foreign corporations, as well as efforts to seize land from the poor using old imperialistic laws and military force. Vandana Shiva was awarded the "alternative nobel prise" for her efforts in publicizing these injustices and offering better solutions to the problems of poverty.
The middle portion of the show was also incredibly interesting and informative, but it was marred by the attitude taken by the reporter, as she moved back and forth between the two interviewees above, asking each in turn, "what is your response to that?" The reporter seemed to taking the stance that there was a conflict between the efforts of micro-capitalism and sustainable farming, and this detracted from the message of hope that both of these groups have for the listeners. The acute listener will hopefully notice that both of these approaches to solving the problems of poverty are equally valid, and that they are in fact complementary in that they support each other. Especially illustrative of this was the fact that Yunus decided not to give microcredit loans for buying genetically-modified seeds when the problems with them were pointed out to him by Shiva. Similarly the organic farming practices and small-scale capitalism which Shiva supports are exactly the kind of self-ownership practices that Yunus hopes to encourage with microcredit. Instead of trying to provoke conflict between two "sides", the issues would have been better served if the reported had tried to highly the complementary aspects of the groups' efforts.
Fortunately, the reporting faux pas does not seriously detract from the value of the report as a whole. We are given the opportunity to listen as two great leaders in the struggle to end poverty explain their means and goals. Even the reporter is surprised by Shiva's revelation of hush-hush deals between the Indian and American governments which will allow large American mega-corporations to have an unfair advantage over small farmers and micro-entrepreneurs. Many activists are espousing the views that poverty can be solved by redistribution of wealth by centralized governing bodies, but this approach will inevitably fail, as we see illustrated by Shiva's example of corporations trying not merely to be rich, but to have monopolistic control of all wealth, and by governments using promises of redistribution of wealth to further concentrate power into centralized oppressive regimes. But these groups are showing that a better way to raise people out of poverty is to give them more opportunity and more control over their own lives. Microcredit banks accomplish this by loaning the tiny amounts needed to start small income-generating enterprises, and by encouraging self-ownership and fully public business dealings. Shiva accomplishes this by pointing out the problems which are currently happening in India, and how they can be solved through farming practices which need only self-grown seeds and organic fertilizers, and encouraging small business enterprises. Hopefully the listeners will gain an appreciation from these interviews of the great good that can be brought about by lowering obstacles to private ownership and conducting small businesses thus increasing the opportunities of the poor, rather than decreasing opportunities by increased regulation of such activities.